Patience is the Most Important Virtue for the Islanders
The 2014-2015 Islanders season was a successful one that ultimately ended in a Game 7 heartbreaking loss to Washington in Round 1. The young team came together with the likes of John Tavares, Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Nick Leddy leading the bunch. Now, as free agency is entering its stagnant period, it’s more evident than ever that the Islanders are sticking to their belief of internal growth and will go into next season with what they have already. However, their Metropolitan counterparts haven’t done the same.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets made the most noise this offseason, acquiring Phil Kessel and Brandon Saad respectively. Washington got Justin Williams and TJ Oshie. The Hurricanes got better, brining in Eddie Lack, Noah Hanifin, and James Wisniewski, and the Devils stayed the same. The Rangers may be the only team that got ‘worse’, per say, but they have young players such as Chris Kreider, JT Miller, Brady Skjei, and Oscar Lindberg ready to step up. That leaves the New York Islanders.
The Islanders have an abundance of wealth up front, so that wasn’t an issue. John Tavares, Ryan Strome, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, and Kyle Okposo can easily fill in the top six with Nikolay Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, and Brock Nelson behind them. Most of the defensive core is coming back with Boychuk, Leddy, Hamonic, de Haan and Hickey, and Ryan Pulock is expected to start the year with the big boys.
The one spot the Islanders did improve on was their backup goalie. Just minutes into free agency, they nabbed Thomas Greiss, the former Penguins, Coyotes and Sharks backup. Chad Johnson and Michal Neuvirth both disappointed, so there aren’t big shoes to fill in that regard. Still, it’s a good addition, because as we saw in the later portion of the season, Jaroslav Halak plays oodles better when rested.
Garth Snow has set the Islanders on the right path, despite some of social media’s outcries due to the lack of moves this offseason. Instead of trading for the underproducing Patrick Sharp, he’s waiting for Michael Dal Colle. Instead of bringing in 34 year old right winger Joel Ward, he’s waiting for Josh Ho-Sang. Patience has been the key in this organization for years and that hasn’t changed.
Now, Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang aren’t exactly going to be ready to make an impact in the NHL next year, which is an issue of its own nature. As previously pointed out, most of the Metropolitan Division got better this offseason. In order to keep up, the Islanders will need to dig deep. Last year, they etched their identity as a four line, checking team, and that needs to continue if the Isles want a shot at the playoffs. John Tavares can do his thing on the first line with Lee and Strome, Bailey/Nielsen/Okposo can hopefully rekindle their success from the 2013 season, Mikhail Grabovski will possibly be healthy all year (which would be a huge plus because he’s an amazing puck possession played and significantly raised the Isles play when in the lineup), and the dubbed ‘best fourth line in hockey’ can hopefully continue their success as well.
Today’s hockey is headlined from building within, and the Islanders are on a track to be a dominant force in two or three years. This season might be a little bit more rough than the last, but I still expect them to fall into a wildcard spot with around 98-102 points, roughly the same as last season.
It may still take time, but the Islanders are doing the right thing. Last year was essentially the first year out of the rebuild, and it was a huge leap. The promised days will come soon enough.
Patience is a virtue.